Written evidence from HM Courts and Tribunals Service

 

 

Justice Committee Wednesday 24 March 2021

 

At my recent appearance at the Justice Committee on 24th March, alongside Lord Wolfson, I was asked to write to provide further information regarding Nightingale Courts.

 

HMCTS’ priority is to continue to hold as many hearings as possible while operating safely within public health guidelinesOne of the ways we have achieved this is by Increasing our use of Cloud Video Platform (CVP).  Video-enabled hearings enable access to justice for people who are quarantined, shielding, or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. They also make it possible for defendants to appear from custody, supporting social distancing and helping to keep more people safe. Since the start of the pandemic, we have installed video equipment in over 780 court and tribunal hearing rooms. There are now over 3,000 court, tribunal and witness rooms on the HMCTS estate that are capable of participating in video hearings. Our published statistics on audio and video hearings show that we are often holding over 20,000 hearings per week using audio or video services.

 

As well as video-enabled hearings, we have been working to maximise the use of our existing estate by installing Plexiglass screens in court rooms and jury deliberation rooms to allow jury trials to be heard safely within social distancing guidelines. To date we have installed screens in over 450 courtrooms and deliberation rooms. Where we have needed additional space to effect social distancing for deliberating jurors, we have repurposed conference/meeting rooms, hired rooms close to existing court buildings or procured temporary modular units and placed them on the existing HMCTS estate. These modular units have, for example, been installed at 14 sites freeing up 27 courtrooms.

 

Taken together, these measures have enabled us to make approximately 300 courtrooms from within the existing HMCTS estate available for jury trials.

 

Our Nightingale venues have increased that operational capacity even further by providing temporary non-custodial courts where there is an operational requirement for additional capacityWhen establishing that requirement we have looked at:

 

 

While not a determining factor, we also consider proximity of staff, judiciary and practitioners when planning Nightingale locationsThat is, we prioritise venues in locations where HMCTS already has a presence, as it is more practical for staff, judiciary and justice partners to attend a locality close to one which they already visit, rather than a more remote location.

 

In selecting suitable venues in those locations, we take into account the following:

 

 

We have also broadly approached the nature of Nightingale tenure in the following order of preference:

 

 

Locations of all Nightingale Courts (both currently open, and those now closed) can be seen in Annex A.

 

We are exploring options to extend some Nightingale court leases in order to maximise the use of the court estate. We will continue to consider where Nightingale courts are needed for local operational reasons and we remain in close contact with the landlords of all existing venues.

 

I hope that this additional detail, together with the information I provided during the course of the hearing, is helpful to the Committee.

 

At the end of the hearing, the Committee asked about whether we had any recent data on the comparison between the length of time private law family cases take when individuals have access to legal representation, and those where they do not.

 

I have produced below, for the Committee’s benefit, a table showing the comparative mean durations of cases where none, some or all of the parties have legal representation. These private law figures are from Table 10 in the published family court statistics covering Oct – Dec 2020. You will see from these data that the figures vary over the years, but the most recent figures for 2020 suggest that the duration of cases where neither party was represented and those were both were represented was the same. In previous years, the duration has tended to be longer for those cases where both applicant and respondent are legally represented.

 

 


 

Year

Quarter

Parties with legal representation

 

All types of representation

Both Applicant and Respondent

 

Applicant only

 

Respondent only

 

Neither Applicant nor Respondent

 

 

Number of disposals

Mean duration in weeks

 

Number of disposals

Mean duration in weeks

 

Number of disposals

Mean duration in weeks

 

Number of disposals

Mean duration in weeks

 

Number of disposals

Mean duration in weeks

2011

 

45,520

19.1

 

28,780

12.1

 

9,393

19.7

 

10,958

15.3

 

94,656

16.6

2012

 

42,435

17.3

 

30,072

11.5

 

9,681

17.0

 

11,926

14.8

 

94,120

15.1

2013

 

31,432

20.8

 

35,724

12.4

 

8,982

18.5

 

18,264

12.8

 

94,403

15.9

2014

 

18,372

22.2

 

29,073

13.9

 

8,485

20.4

 

23,497

14.7

 

79,427

16.8

2015

 

15,792

16.4

 

25,032

12.2

 

8,559

18.3

 

24,023

13.7

 

73,406

14.3

2016

 

17,159

15.3

 

26,655

11.0

 

10,065

17.6

 

27,541

13.6

 

81,420

13.6

2017

 

16,980

15.7

 

27,657

11.5

 

10,746

18.2

 

30,966

14.0

 

86,349

14.1

2018

 

17,219

16.5

 

27,370

12.5

 

10,908

19.3

 

32,795

15.4

 

88,292

15.2

2019

 

18,903

17.7

 

28,954

12.9

 

12,570

21.1

 

37,948

16.7

 

98,375

16.3

2020

 

18,405

19.7

 

25,359

15.4

 

11,486

24.4

 

32,203

19.8

 

87,453

19.1

 

 


 

Annex A

 

Nightingale Courts

 

Region

Site

Type of work

Total No. court rooms

London

Prospero House

Crown

3

London

102 Petty France

Family

4

NE

Cloth Hall Court

Business Property & Civil

1

NE

Middlesbrough Town Hall

Civil

1

Wales

Swansea Civic Centre

Non-custodial crown

1

SE

Knights' chamber and visitor Centre Peterborough Cathedral

Corporate Crown

1

Mids

Former county court at Telford

Civil and Family

3

NW

Former Magistrates court Fleetwood

Civil

2

NW

Chester, Chester Town Hall

Crown

2

NW

The Lowry Theatre, Salford

Crown (x3), Tribunals (x1)

4

NE

York, Hilton Hotel

Family

1

NE

Middlesbrough, Jury's Inn Hotel

Civil and Family

2

SW

Winchester, The Guildhall

Civil Family and Tribunal

3

SW

Cirencester - former Mags court

Crown & Magistrates

2

Mids

Birmingham Repertory Theatre & Library

Crown

2

NE

Hull University

Civil & Family

1

Mids

Stafford Shire Hall

Civil & Family

2

SW

Taunton

Crown (non-Jury trial) & Magistrates

2

NW

Hilton Hotel - Manchester

Crown

2

London

Barbican

Crown

2

Mids

Maple House, Birmingham

Crown and Civil & Family

4

London

Croydon Jurys Inn

Crown & Crown Court appeals

2

Mids

Wolverhampton Park Hall Hotel

Crown

2

NW

Hilton Hotel - Liverpool

Crown

1

Mids

Nottingham Mercure

Crown

2

NW

University of Bolton FC

Crown

2

SE

Chichester - former court

Crown

2

NW

Preston FC

Crown

2

NW

Lancaster – Town Hall*

Crown & Magistrates

2

SE

Hertfordshire Development Centre**

Civil

4 judges

SE

East Pallant House**

Civil and family

2

SW

Bristol Law Society**

Crown - Judge only and Civil and Tribunal

1

NW

Liverpool, St Georges Hall***

Magistrates

1

 

* Temporary closure until w/c 25 May

** Venues now closed

***This venue has now switched from being a Nightingale court to a live link venue for another trial

 

 

April 2021